A freak accident left him convinced he was going to die, but as he lay by the side of a country road awaiting the end, a figure bathed in bright light brought him new hope.
Another Sunday evening. I sat in front of the TV, watching football and eating what I called a tuna special—tuna with whatever happened to be in the fridge. I wasn’t much of a cook. I’d eaten a lot of tuna specials since my wife and I separated a year earlier. Our marriage just couldn’t withstand the grief we’d endured since losing two of our kids. Our son James was born prematurely and lived only 10 days. His older brother, Robert, died six years later at 18 of kidney disease. Not a day passed that I didn’t think of them.
I worked as a landscaper. I had a lot of time to myself as I tended gardens and mowed lawns. My hobby was metal detecting. I’d found all sorts of old and rare coins. That was something I did alone too. My brother, who owned the landscaping company I worked for, told me I needed to get out more. I knew he was right. I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it. I guess I could have gone to church. I believed in God, though I constantly wrestled with the question—if God was so holy and peaceful, why was there so much pain and violence in the world? Even in the Bible? I didn’t blame God for what happened to my sons. Still, sometimes I wondered where he’d been then. Had he even noticed?
Some tuna specials were better than others. This one was giving me indigestion. Maybe a walk would help. I lived on a rural road and it was pitch-dark, but I knew my way.
Outside was a cold, moonless November night. I turned right toward town, as I usually did. Up ahead, I saw some rowdy guys by the side of the road—they appeared drunk. I didn’t need them ruining my evening. I turned the other way. No streetlights there, but I didn’t mind. It was just the road and the woods. I wasn’t planning on going far.
I walked a while, then turned around for home. I saw what looked like headlights coming down the road. I stepped onto the shoulder to get out of the way. The ground was oddly soft. I felt myself slip on some wet leaves. Suddenly the earth gave way. I was falling! Plunging headfirst into nothingness. I landed hard. There was a bright flash and a sharp pain in my head. My ribs cracked. My spine twisted. Then I lost consciousness.
When I came to, I was on my back. Through the gloom I could make out a culvert—a large, rectangular open drain of sorts. I must have stepped off the edge of it in the darkness. I was splayed out on jagged rocks beneath it, where water flowed when it rained. Concrete walls on either side of the culvert obstructed my view—I couldn’t see the road above.
I felt massive pressure in my chest. I tried to call for help, but the only sound was a barely audible wheeze. Something trickled down my face. I reached up, and my fingers brushed a massive gash on my head.
You’re in bad shape, Bubba.... You’ve gotta think!
No one knew I was here. No one could even see down here from the road. I had to get up there somehow and hope a passing car saw me. Could I move?
I tried to sit up. Pain seared through my whole body, especially my back. My left arm didn’t work too well. Just move, I told myself. I managed to get on all fours and crawl toward the embankment that led up from the culvert. Every inch was agony.
I reached the embankment and struggled through tangled undergrowth, pulling myself up with branches and tree trunks. It felt like climbing Mount Everest. In my heart, I knew I’d never survive. My only thought was to get up the embankment, so my body would be easier to find later.
My hand bumped into something large and smooth, lying on the ground. A fallen log, probably stripped smooth from age. It was near the road—I could see that. I wrapped an arm around it and hauled myself partly over it, resting on its surface. I put my head on the smooth wood. A good place to die…
Just as I was closing my eyes, the darkness around me seemed to lighten. Was it morning? It couldn’t be. I hadn’t been down there for more than an hour. The brightness intensified. For a moment, it was like I was back in my childhood bedroom and my parents had come in to wake me early for a trip. The light grew and grew until it was almost blinding.
I squinted. The brightness was so powerful, so dazzling, that I could see everything in the wooded area around me with crystal clarity. The log I clung to, I realized, was old indeed, weathered smooth by time and somewhat hollowed out at the ends, home to insects and other creatures. A universe unto itself.
Wind swirled the leaves and tossed the branches above. I glanced up. A man was walking toward me. Someone else out for a stroll? The figure stood just a few feet away. At his arrival, my pain subsided. He had a kind, weathered face and a long beard. He wore a robe. The man was not alone. Two children were with him. One, a teenager. The other, a baby.
I gasped. James and Robert! My sons! How? How was it possible?
I looked at the figure again, desperate for answers. The air around him sparkled with iridescence. The questions faded from my mind. And I knew without a doubt. I was staring into the face of God.
The wind quieted. The woods became utterly still.
“I’m ready to come to you, God!” I cried out.
A voice spoke inside me. “It’s not your time, Jim. There are things left for you to do for me.”
“Me?” I said, breathless. “I’m no one special. I don’t go to church. I don’t even read the Bible!”
“You are special because you are my child. You don’t have to know the Bible to know me. My blessing is in everything. Learn to see those blessings and treasure them. Then tell everyone about me....”
It felt as if we talked for a long time. But I never spoke to my sons. I didn’t have to. I knew they were with God, that they were cared for. For the first time in my life, I was filled with indescribable peace. I wanted the feeling to go on and on. I wanted to lie on that log forever!
But the light began to fade. The figure receded. My sons too. The wind moved again, rustling the trees. The dark night returned. And, with it, agonizing pain.
This time, though, I didn’t mind. I knew now there was nothing to fear. I had things I needed to do for God. I couldn’t waste time. I had to get up. I pulled myself to my feet. How, exactly, I couldn’t say.
I wasn’t able to stand up straight—my back hurt too much and my legs barely worked. But somehow I hobbled across the road to the nearest house. I knocked on the door. It creaked open.
“Help,” I wheezed.
When I woke up in the hospital, I learned I’d been in a coma for seven days. My skull was cracked. My shoulder blade, 11 ribs and 10 vertebrae were broken. Turned out, a guardrail above the culvert had washed out years ago and I’d stepped right off the edge. I’d fallen 14 feet.
My brother came to visit. I knew I had to talk about what happened. But part of me wasn’t sure if I’d imagined it all. I’d suffered a head injury, after all. Maybe I’d made up that whole part about the log. Did it even exist? Had I been hallucinating?
“Bubba, how did you crawl back up to the road?” my brother asked me.
I opened my mouth to tell him about seeing God...and hesitated. “I think,” I finally said, “I think I saw God.”
My brother looked skeptical. “You were in pretty bad shape,” he said.
I told him about the log. The light. Seeing my kids.
My brother’s face changed. “A smooth log?” he said. “You’re sure? How were you able to see it in the darkness?”
“I saw every inch of it,” I said. “The light was so bright!”
I couldn’t tell if he thought I was nuts. Maybe I was. But later, when I was transferred to rehab, he took me to the computer room and pulled up a photo. “I took this the morning after you fell,” he said, showing me an image of the area around the culvert. “You can’t see it, but there was blood everywhere.”
And there, near the top of the embankment by the side of the road, was an old log. The same one I’d described to my brother, straight out of a coma.
It was not just another Sunday evening.
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